Augustine, a work of scholarship as readable as any historical novel, is not exactly a biography. It takes the story of Augustine’s life only to his forty-fourth year; Robin Lane Fox has almost nothing to say about the thirty-three years as a bishop that still lay ahead of him. The book is not so much about Augustine himself as about Augustine’s own autobiography, the Confessions. It examines the events recollected in that book and the development of the thoughts that went into its composition.
The Confessions is indeed a remarkable work. In the ancient world it was the first, and only, example of what we nowadays think of as autobiography. Earlier writers, such as Xenophon and Julius Caesar, recorded their exploits but told us nothing about their inner lives. In later centuries, autobiographers took the Confessions as their model and sometimes hijacked its title.